Coker University Receives Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant to Support Inclusive Learning Environments

    Coker University Receives Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant to Support Inclusive Learning Environments


    As part of a national initiative by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Coker University will team with 14 other colleges and universities as part of a learning community (“LCC5”). This group  will: 

    1. examine inclusive teaching strategies and approaches to define what “inclusive excellence” means for our respective campuses, 
    2. identify barriers to inclusion and equity, and 
    3. build a measurable plan to improve our respective institution’s capacity for inclusive teaching to include cultivating a faculty that reflects the diversity of each campus's student body.

    HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative 3 (IE3) challenges US colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably build capacity for student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences. 

    The HHMI Inclusive Excellence grant will provide Coker with $655,000 in funding over the next six years to support efforts to build overall institutional capacity to provide inclusive learning environments as part of the work of its Center for Diversity, Interfaith & Inclusion Education. These funds will support both direct work at Coker to advance the use of inclusive teaching practices and will help foster collaboration across the multi-institutional learning community.  

    HHMI created the Inclusive Excellence program five years ago to address what it sees as a challenge and an opportunity when it comes to helping students from first-generation and non-traditional educational backgrounds and groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science fields succeed in college.

    “This project will help reduce the barriers often faced by first-generation or economically disadvantaged students at Coker University, increasing both the quality of their educational experiences and chances for future success after graduation,” said Joseph Flaherty, Ph.D., a professor in Coker’s College of Humanities and Sciences and Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives who will be serving as program director of the Inclusive Excellence project at Coker.

    Over the next six years, the Coker team and its collaborators within the LCC5 learning community: California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, Centre College, Cleveland State University, The College of Wooster, Drexel University, Georgia State University, Lane College, Marian University (Indiana), Occidental College, the University of California- Irvine, the University of Connecticut, the University of Mississippi, the University of Richmond and West Virginia University, will focus on specific projects collaboratively developed by the LCC5.

    “These collaborative projects will enable cross-institutional learning in a dedicated and robust way that is a rarity in higher education.  HHMI is providing both the mechanism and financial support to facilitate an initiative that will have long lasting impacts on a multitude of institutions, including our own,” said Susan Daniels Henderson, PhD, Provost at Coker University.

    The Coker University Core Team members also include Jen Borgo-Raia, Professor of Biology; Andrea Coldwell, Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Cathleen Cuppett, Dean of Digital Learning and Director of the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning (CETL);  Julia Klimek, Professor and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies; Rhonda Knight, Professor and Director of the Honors Program; and Darlene Small, Director of the Center for Diversity, Interfaith & Inclusion Education. 

    The HHMI program aligns with Coker’s foundational mission of preparing graduates by creating experiences in and out of the classroom “focused on active student involvement and the practical application of academic knowledge that lead to lifelong learning.” It is also complementary to many of the goals of Coker’s strategic plan, the efforts of its Centers for Diversity, Interfaith & Inclusion Education and Engaged Teaching and Learning, and the University’s shared values of integrity, inclusion, and leadership.

    “The Inclusive Excellence program aligns with Coker’s ongoing efforts to promote effective and inclusive teaching,” Flaherty said. “We see this as an opportunity to support the success of all our students while helping to deliberately foster a culture of safety and trust. This opportunity to work with and learn from our collaborators within the learning community will have an outsized impact on our ability to create an environment in which all are inspired to interact through mutual respect, support, and appreciation of difference.